Swimming in Good Grinds at Yanaka Coffee

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For the most part, Tokyo’s coffee culture has a decidedly plastic feel to it. Lots of big chain cafes, serving tasty (if somewhat pedestrian) snacks, laminate tables, and pre-packaged everything.

Of course Japan is a tea nation, so coffee, while making a fair showing, is not something the country is famous for. Tokyo’s micro-chain, Yanaka Coffee, is a refreshing change from the usual plastic tray-gum-syrup experience.

I stumbled upon Yanaka Coffee while searching for the “heated public pool” in Kita-Senju. Located on a charming shotengai (shopping street, 商店街), Yanaka Coffee’s rustic exterior and heaping barrels of beans immediately caught my eye.

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The ambience immediately struck me of the kind of coffee house you’d find in San Francisco or Portland. It’s a small, discreet shop with just a few seats, but is quiet, non-smoking, and anti-cell phone. A perfect nook for reading, drawing, or writing.

Beans are sold in 100g quantities, then roasted and ground to your specifications. They offer straight and blended beans from everywhere: Columbia, Brazil, Peru, the Dominican Republic. I like dark coffee, so I asked for a dark roast (they have a 1-10 scale- I went with a 9) and the barista selected an Indonesian bean and told me it would take about ten minutes to roast and grind for my paper-drip rig at home.

While I waited, I was served complimentary samples of the both the hot and iced daily blends from the Dominican. Rich, earthy, and very freshly roasted. 200 grams is normally 1050 yen, but if you’re local, you can sign up for a point card and immediately get 300 yen off (30% off just like that?). They can even deliver bean bags to your place. And if you’re just visiting, Yanaka offers worldwide shipping and a variety of gift sets.

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They also offer a sweets set menu with lovely pastries and cakes– the ubiquitous hermetically sealed brownies were nowhere to be found. A cup of coffee runs about 240 yen and the sets are under 700 yen. So yum.

Free samples, instant discounts, and chill coffee house vibe. I think I’ve found my new office space. I never did find that pool.

The Deets:
Yanaka Coffee
24 locations in Tokyo
Hours: 11:00am -20:00
www.yanaka-coffeeten.com

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Writer, actor, beauty junkie, smart aleck.
  • Jamming James says:

    You should hold onto that place like its gold because finding a good coffee shop in Japan is like winning the lottery. I have been to many coffee shops here, and most of the time I just want to find a place where I can enjoy a coffee and read a book in peace. Whenever I go, I don’t plan to stay there for half the day, or monopolize the outlets. I just want to buy a coffee, read for an hour and grab a bag of coffee to take back to my apartment when I am out. These kind of places are perfect for that.

    I don’t particularly care for caramel-infused blends or drinks that have more sugar and calories than a cake. But I do like to try a range of coffee types and roasts, so a place like this is perfect for me. The biggest problem I have with most big chain coffee shops is that a lot of the more ubiquitous ones are easier to get to but are usually packed to the rafters. So I turn my attention to smaller places that look like they know their coffee but somehow are overlooked by many Japanese people.

    I wholeheartedly recommend anyone who loves a good cup of coffee to check a place like this out. The staff are usually really friendly and will chat your ear off about coffee if you let them, and they often put the roasters up front so you can watch them roasting your beans too, which smells amazing. They have some of the best coffee I have ever tasted and it is more often than not cheaper than a similar cup bought from a chain coffee shop. It is also great having the opportunity to try out so many of the different types and roasts that I would otherwise avoid if I had to commit to buying more than a cup full.

    While I can’t speak of this company, there’s a coffee shop like this not far from my apartment, and because I visit there semi-regularly they know we pretty well. I like to having the chance to have a small chat with them before they leave me alone to recede into the window seat and my book.

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